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Monday, July 28, 2014

"Please don't hang my daddy!"



"You are Sunni dogs who must be hanged!"

    ( Iranian trail Judge Moghisseh)



 Children are gifted with amazing creative abilities to draw pictures of the things in life that bring them great joy. They draw pictures of beautiful rainbows, picnics in the park with mommy and daddy, their favorite pets, and the list goes on....but rarely does one see a picture that depicts sadness, suffering and death.....
One such rare exception was a drawing by four year-old Mohanna Ahmadi. Mohanna didn't draw the usual picture that four year-olds commonly draw..she didn't draw a picture of her dog and cat or a picture of playing with her best friend, or a bright colored picture of the sun shining..instead she drew a picture of her father being hanged!
Mohanna drew a picture of her standing next to her mother, holding hands and watching her father being hanged in Iran.
When I gazed upon this heartbreaking drawing, I was driven to tears!
 Mohanna, an innocent four year-old child, was doing her best to understand the cruel and suffering world all around her. She picked up a crayon and said to the world, "Please don't let them hang my daddy!"
The heart of their precious four year-old was desperately crying out to you and me over the internet and pleading with the government not to hang her father.
 Hamed Ahmadi was one among three other Sunni Muslims, on death row for the alleged crime of murdering a pro-government Sunni cleric.
Ironically the murder of the cleric did not take place until long after the four were arrested and so the Iranian regime dropped the original charges and instead tried them on charges of  Moharebeh (enmity with God) and acting against national security by supporting opposition Kurdish parties.
However when one understands the contentious history between the Sunnis and Shias, then it becomes obvious the real reason these four Sunnis are on death row is because of their religious orientation.
Soon after the death of Mohammed in 632 A.D., there arose a dispute of who would be his successor. 
The Shia party declared that Mohammed had appointed Ali, his cousin and son-in-law, to be the rightful successor. The Sunni's disputed this claim and that's when the contentious wars began.
During the battle of Karbala in 680 A.D. Ali's son, Hussein was killed and this further deepened the division between Shia's and Sunni's.
The Sunnis, the largest majority group of Islam, reject the teachings of the Shiites because they venerate the Imams and look to them for spiritual guidance. Sunnis consider this as blasphemous and idolatrous and reject any religious association with them.
After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, the remaining Sunni population suffered intense discrimination in employment and were prohibited from broadcasting and expressing their opinions. Thus, began the long and bitter history of discrimination against Sunni Muslims in Iran.

After their trial, Iranian judge Moghisseh warned The four Sunnis to be quiet and declared, "You are Sunni dogs who must be hanged!"
He warned them to be quiet and ordered them to quickly leave the courtroom.
Intelligence agents began threatening their families and cautioned them to remain silent or else face dire consequences.
Gazing upon this innocent, beautiful and yet sad drawing by Mohanna, I felt so broken inside. I quickly consulted with my dear friend Shadi Paveh, a powerful Iranian human rights activist and together we began speaking out for the four Sunnis and sending out numerous petitions for people to sign. Shadi was a guest on my "Cross in the Deseret," radio program and we talked about the dire situation of the four Sunni prisoners, pleading with people on Facebook to sign the petition.

We spoke out and prayed and waited.......

Two weeks ago, while I was at work at the bookstore, my friend Shadi greeted me with some incredible news!! She shared a post that the Four Sunni prisoners, who had been on a hunger strike, had been taken off of death row and returned to their normal prison cells!
I was overjoyed beyond words. I quickly excused myself and ran into the back stockroom at the bookstore and cried for joy!
Our praying and petitioning had been heard!
I believe with all of my heart that four year-old Mohnna's drawing had touched the heart of our compassionate God! I tried to visualize and imagine how she was feeling at that moment..I thought, Mohanna, you can make another drawing..you can draw a new picture of your father without a noose around his neck!
Although Hamed Ahmadi is still not free, he is still a prisoner of Iran, he is at least still alive..Mohanna still has a daddy..and my prayer is that one day, she can draw a new picture of holding hands with her father once again..only this time its a picture of him free, alive and out of prison!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

"Stories of Stealthy Freedom."



"If the meat was covered, then the cats wouldn't roam around it!"
 Taj El-Din Hilaly (Muslim Cleric)

"I cannot accept that my hair can make men sin and lose their faith
 unless they have a sick heart.......
  (Iranian stealthy freedom woman)




March 7, 1979: The new leader of Iran, the Ayatollah Khomeini decrees that it is mandatory for the woman to wear the hijab. (veil)
One day later on International Women's day, thousands of Iranian women take to the streets of Tehran launching a massive protest against the wearing of the hijab!
Now exactly 35 years later, a new silent protest has begun called ,"My Stealthy freedom," that is a little more obscure and yet it is having profound effects on young Iranian women who are rebelling once again against the mandatory Hijab Law.
Iranian Journalist, Masih Alinejad, who lives in the UK, was overwhelmed at the response she received when she asked Iranian women about their desires to be without the veil.
The Stealthy Freedom Facebook page was bombarded with over 500,000 hits in five weeks, including pictures and stories of women without their veils.
The word, stealthy, is used to describe the new revolution, because of the danger and risk to women who participate in it. If they are caught they can be lashed, fined and imprisoned for disobeying the mandatory law. Therefore in order to avoid the harsh consequences they must "secretly" remove their veils.
For some, removing the veil is a frightening and difficult choice. One Iranian woman, who posted her picture of being hijabless and standing in front of the Azadi Towers in Tehran, described her journey to removing her veil as a scary event.
 "Whenever I saw revolving lights or people dressed in uniforms, I would think it was the police and begin to shake with fear!"
 Eventually she gained more courage and decided not to let what people think or say bother her anymore. She began to ride her bicycle without the veil and ignored the judgmental stares given by women dressed in chadors.
The history of the Hijab is important to the context of understanding why Iran imposes this mandatory law.
On January 8, 1936, The Shah banned the wearing of the veil and threatened arrest to women who defied the law. The law was enacted as an attempt to modernize and westernize Iran.
 On March 7, 1979,  Ayatollah Khomeini reversed the law, making it mandatory that women wear the hijab publicly. Iran had been transformed from a secular to a fundamentalist Islamic state in order to conform more closely to the teachings of the Quran.
Fear and guilt tactics have been employed by mullahs and clerics in order to manipulate the thinking of women in relationship to wearing the veil.  One such Muslim cleric, Taj El-Din Hilaly,  publicly declared, "If the meat was covered, the cats wouldn't roam around it."
Hilaly characterized women without the veil as being like,"uncovered meat," implying that they would be responsible for gang rapes by Muslim men!
In response to this sick implication, I love what the Iranian woman in the Stealthy Freedom movement says: "I cannot accept that my hair would make men sin and lose their faith, unless they have a sick heart, in which case, they need to seek a remedy in their own souls instead of making us keep covered!"

Another example of the ridiculous superstition surrounding the wearing of the veil is the statement of what a clergyman said on Iranian TV, that a woman's bad hijab is the cause of rainstorms and floods.
A brave and courageous woman outraged at the statement, posted a picture of her standing in front of a dried up river bed without her veil, looking up to the sky, begging  for
it to begin raining.
Despite the consequences and the fear and guilt tactics employed by the Iranian Regime, women are standing up fearlessly in their pictures and stories in order to say to the world, "I am a woman, I am more than just a veil!"
One such Iranian woman praised Masih Alinejad in a personal letter on her Stealthy page declaring, "Thank you for creating a page that has given us a chance to be seen by the people of Iran and the people of the rest of the world. I like most of this generation, wish not only for the day when I will have freedom of clothing, but also the day when Iran will be a free country....these chains we bear are never something that we have chosen for ourselves!"

Two years ago, I wrote a very important book called, "The Rose of Nowruz: Dreams of hope and freedom," in which I described a woman freedom fighter in Tehran named Bahareh, who finally broke her silence and stood up against the oppressive government. There is very poignant scene in Chapter two, where Bahareh is waiting for the bus to take her home from university and while she waits patiently she composes a declaration that I think perfectly describes the inner cries and convictions of women in the Stealthy Freedom Movement! 

             "I am a woman. I am more than just a veil.
              I am more than what I wear.
              I am someone. Someone who has the right to speak her mind.
              The right to be heard.
              The right to pursue her dreams.
              The right to be respected and the right to be treated as an equal.
              God has given me all of these rights and no man or government
              can take these rights away from me.
               I am a woman and I proclaim my right to be free!"







Saturday, May 24, 2014

"Happiness is a crime in Iran."



"It is beyond sad that these kids were arrested for trying to spread happiness..."
                              ...Pharrell Williams....



Thomas Jefferson, the original architect, of the Declaration of Independence, is credited with the "often quoted phrase" that has revolutionized the world's thinking on the subject of "God-given" rights.
Jefferson writes, in the preamble of the famous declaration:

                 ....."We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness....."

Jefferson in his eloquent style, clearly outlined that there are certain rights given by God to men that are undeniable. His point is that no matter where one lives, they have certain unalienable rights that must be respected and recognized.
Life is a gift from God. Freedom is a gift from God..and then the famous last statement that is quoted most often...the pursuit of happiness.....

While it is true that happiness is often defined differently from other cultures and other peoples, the point is that happiness as well as life and freedom, is a "God given" right that should be respected by others and not suppressed by tyrannical governments.
Unfortunately, The Islamic Republic of Iran doesn't seem to agree with the famous words of Thomas Jefferson.
Recently six youth were arrested in Tehran for making a video glorifying the "God-given right" of expressing happiness. The video was a remake of the "Pharrell William's," chart busting hit single entitled, "Happy."
Williams had challenged the world in a global campaign to upload videos and photographs of every day people engaging in happiness. The youth of Tehran excitedly responded and with the help of a director put together a dazzling video showing them dancing on the rooftops of Tehran. The video was an immediate hit all over the world, scoring more than 100,000 hits. But there was one small problem..The Iranian Police were not so excited about the project. It is against Islamic law for women to appear in public without their hijabs and equally against the law for them to be dancing with males.
Within hours of the video being posted, the police descended on the "happiness project," and arrested the six participants. They raided the home, bashing and destroying everything, confiscating computers and hauled them off to the Vozara police station. On the second day they were transferred to solitary confinement and interrogated. The female participants were humiliated and forced to strip naked performing squats before female officers.
In the end, the youth were paraded before live state run television and forced to give a public apology for making the video. Each of the participants were fined for their actions and required to pay 40 millions Tomans ($10,000) bail.

It is beyond comprehension to me that these young, brave Iranian youth have had to suffer so much for simply showing the world, (in their own words)  "We still have moments of happiness even though we face so many problems in Iran..."
One of the participants, Siavash Tavarti, is quoted as saying, "They were only showing their happiness and they were arrested for that!"


Make no mistake, The "God-given" right of happiness, is considered a crime in Iran. A great example of this is demonstrated during the "day of Ashura." The day of Ashura is a very special event in Iran commemorating
 the martyrdom of Husayn Ali, considered by Shia Muslims, the legitimate successor of the prophet Muhammad. It is during this time that Iranians are supposed to engage in public mourning for Ali who was killed in the battle of Karbala for defending Islam against corruption from other nations. Many of the participants during this time of public mourning, bring with themselves chains and engage in a type of "self flagellation" showing their sorrow for what happened to Ali.
My point is, the climate of Iran, the culture of Iran, is a culture of sorrow and mourning based on the history and teachings of Islam. Many of my Iranian friends have privately shared with me their utter dismay for how the government expects them to always be sorrowful and be in a state of mourning for the Imams. When considering this background, one can now understand why making a video about happiness is really frowned upon by the Islamic Republic. It is more than just the fact that the participants weren't wearing their hijabs or dancing with the opposite sex..it goes beyond just that....Happiness is a crime in Iran...And the youth were desperately trying to make a statement to the world..to let their voices be heard...They were literally shouting from the rooftops that, "We know how to be happy just like everyone else in the world!!"

Let me say emphatically..Let me shout this from the rooftops!!!  God has created you and me to express to the world that He is a God of great joy, of great creativity, of great freedom, of great love!! God is not a depressed, mean, angry Orge, who spends all of his time in mourning, rather God is a being of great Truth, joy, happiness, love..etc!!

I salute these brave and courageous Iranian youth for showing the world that they too can be happy regardless of their circumstances. They have taught you and me a great lesson that we need to learn. Happiness is a gift from God...He has given each one of us the right to pursue our own happiness.
The young people of Iran need our constant prayers every day. Despite living in a society where individual freedoms are not respected, they have chosen to "break the law" and make a statement to us in the west.
We really have no right to complain. We should be the ultimate examples of happiness because where we live there is true freedom!
Let's all celebrate freedom and happiness while we can. Please type the hash tag  #FreeHappyIranians on Twitter and support these courageous youth today!






             
  .

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

"Reyhaneh Jabbari: The crime of self defense!"



"I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by you....
 Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?"
       (Hadith vol.1..book 6, number 301)



During the 2012 presidential election, liberals accused conservatives of suppressing the rights of women. The common phrase that was used to describe their "discrimination" was the hot button term entitled, "the war on women."
I believe there is a "real war on women," that has nothing to do with the continuous political debate being waged between conservatives and liberals!
The real war on women transcends the political arena here in America! The real war is being waged every second of every day against women in Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the middle east. This war has many scars, many casualties, many innocent victims..a deliberate hatred and discrimination against women!
 Recently I came across an article on the internet, (where else? lol)..it was a blatant statement made by an unidentified Saudi Professor ( who didn't have the balls to mention his name...) The Saudi Professor said,

"If a woman gets raped walking in public alone, then she, herself is at fault. She is only seducing men by her presence. She should have stayed home like a Muslim woman..."

Women all over the world should 
be outraged by this sexist and discriminatory statement! (As of yet I still don't hear any liberal women rising up to defend these women's rights in the middle east..) 
 Adding insult to injury, this man is a professor, a teaching professor at a university in Saudi Arabia!

In the Islamic world, women are treated like possessions, like property, and are considered little more than second class citizens. They are not allowed to travel alone and must obtain special permission from their husbands if they want to leave the country.
When you understand the male mindset against women in the middle east, then you can understand why a young 26 year-old girl is on death row in Iran.
Her name is Reyhaneh Jabbari. Her crime is self defense.
In 2007, Moreteza Abdolai Sarbandi, (identified as a former intelligence agent in Iran) contacted Reyhaneh and asked her to do some work in re-designing his office. According to Reyhaneh's testimony, she was driven to his apartment. Once inside the apartment, Sarbandi began to attack her and Reyhaneh did what any normal woman would do who is being sexually assaulted. She defended herself! In the struggle, Reyhaneh found a kitchen knife and stabbed Sarbandi. Later he died of his injuries.

The trial of Reyhaneh has been a travesty of justice, a perversion of the true judicial process! She was convicted of murder, coerced under pressure to confess and sentenced to hang! 
 Subsequent evidence of drinks laced with drugs demonstrated that Sarbandi had the whole scenario planned from start to finish and yet this vital evidence was suppressed along with many other facts in the case that would have easily exonerated Reyhaneh in any other criminal court!
 The simple question to be asked is, "Why wasn't Reyhaneh's testimony of the events accepted by the Iranian court?"

I think the answer lies in the view of women, according to teachings of Islam in Iran and all across the middle east.
In the Hadith, (The teachings and sayings of the prophet Mohammed not contained in the Quran) there is an interesting story:

Once Allah's Apostle went out to the Musalla (to offer the prayer) o 'Id-al-Adha or Al-Fitr prayer. Then he passed by the women and said, "O women! Give alms, as I have seen that the majority of the dwellers of Hell-fire were you (women)." They asked, "Why is it so, O Allah's Apostle ?" He replied, "You curse frequently and are ungrateful to your husbands. I have not seen anyone more deficient in intelligence and religion than you. A cautious sensible man could be led astray by some of you." The women asked, "O Allah's Apostle! What is deficient in our intelligence and religion?" He said, "Is not the evidence of two women equal to the witness of one man?" They replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her intelligence. Isn't it true that a woman can neither pray nor fast during her menses?" The women replied in the affirmative. He said, "This is the deficiency in her religion."
                                    (Volume 1, book 6, number 301)


In another Hadith, The Prophet Mohmmaed was given the news that the people of Persia had made the daughter of Khosrau their queen, to which he replied,  "Never will succeed such a nation that makes a woman their ruler..."
                       (Volume 9, book 88, number 21)


When considering the weight of this evidence, it is easy now to understand why Reyhaneh's version of the crime was not accepted! She is a woman..her evidence is less than half that of a man's..she is deficient in intelligence and in her religion.
I know exactly what I speak of. Everyday I talk with my dear Iranian friends and they share with me story after story of the oppression and discrimination of women in Iran.
 Reyhaneh faces execution in Iran for the crime of self-defense! You ask any woman who has been raped and they will tell you in tears of how the scars and humiliation of this disgusting crime has traumatized their lives forever!
Reyhaneh has spent the last six years of her life behind bars for doing what any normal woman does when sexually assaulted.
 It is time for women, regardless of their political orientation or religion, to stand up and be a voice for the oppressed women in the middle east. This is where the real war on women is being waged!
 Please join me and be their voice!

"Speak up for those who cannot speak up for themselves:
 Ensure justice for those being crushed.
 Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice!"
                           (Proverbs 31:8-9)
 .

Sunday, April 20, 2014

"I am more than just a veil."


"I am a woman.
 I am more than just a veil,
I am more than what I wear,
I am someone."
                   (The Rose of Nowruz)



Two years ago, I had the privilege of writing a very special book on the rights of women for my Iranian friends, entitled,  "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom."
My dear friend ( her name withheld for security reasons) who lives in Tehran shared her powerful stories with me that became the basis of the storyline for my book. Since it's publication, The Rose of Nowruz, has been read by major human rights groups in both Iran and Canada, including my dear friends who live in the heart of The Islamic Republic.
Just recently I asked my Iranian friend to write a short, personal reflection on the treatment of women in Iran. She happily agreed.
I want you to hear, word-for-word, her feelings and convictions. My Iranian friend is an English teacher and has an amazing gift of describing from her heart, the way of life in the Islamic Republic of Iran. The following short paragraph is her latest story, reflecting on the treatment of women in Iran.

"Security. The word sounds familiar to many people around the world, but for me..that's not tangible. I would love to feel it one day if I get the chance and I hope no woman in the world feels the insecurity I'm coping with here.....
Everywhere else women are praised for their beauty, all the sacrifices they do for the family and for bringing life into this world, but here, when it comes to women..there are no rights, no values...women are THINGS which must be used!
The worst thing about this inequality is that you have to feel it every day from the bottom of your heart...
The simplest example that I can mention is standing at the street corner waiting for a taxi..
Just because of standing there, every cab driver or motorcyclist feels free to honk the horn, stop next to you, and begin flirting with you, saying nasty things to you....
It is reminder that every day you are being treated like an object created to make life full of pleasure for men.
It really doesn't matter whether or not you are single or married, well dressed or not, having a complete hijab or not, what I'm describing happens to every Iranian woman every single day!
It is very devastating to experience being watched and harassed from the moment that you leave home until the time that you arrive at your destination.
They feel free to whisper whatever dirty and nasty things that they wish. They feel free to comment on your face and body, and even the minute things that you never noticed in the mirror.
Narrating and elaborating this issue really makes me sick of being a woman here.
I bet you could never tolerate a single day here!

While it's true that in my culture, flirting and harassment of women is also a problem, In Iran, it is a way of life resulting from the teachings of the Quran and the Hadith. Some of my Muslim friends insist that the Quran is a book that highly praises the equality of women, but when carefully read, it contains statements that seem to teach quite the opposite.
For example, Surah 2:223 declares,  " Your women are your fields, so go into your fields whichever way you like.."
Reflecting back on my friend's description of the harassment and flirting of men, it is now understandable why she is treated this way in every day life. This verse from the Quran essentially is giving permission for a man to treat his wife in a lude, sexual and vulgar way.
Another example, Surah 4:11 states: "The share of a male shall be twice that of a female..."
The Quran is very clearly teaching that when it comes to the issue of inheritance rights, the man is preferred to over that of a woman.
One more example: The Hadith, (a collection of the sayings and deeds of the prophet)
 Volume 1, book 6, number 301,
 The prophet said, "Isn't the witness of a woman equal to half that of a man?"
 The women said, "Yes."
He said, "This is because of the deficiency of a woman's mind."

You can now clearly feel and understand why my dear Iranian friend suffers from this type of abuse and harassment everyday. Her culture has been taught that men are superior to women and they are permitted to treat them as mere sexual objects! Instead of treating women with dignity, honor and respect, men engage in perverse behavior and treat them as mere possessions for their entertainment.
This is the cultural mindset that my dear friend has to cope with everyday.
In contrast to the Quran, The Bible portrays women with dignity and respect as image bearers of God. Women were treated with compassion and kindness by Jesus during his earthly ministry. In the Jewish culture, women suffered from much of the same treatment and Jesus came on the scene treating women with the worth and dignity that they deserved!
Proverbs 31:10 is a perfect example of showing high praise to the value and worth of women. The writer, King Lemuel asks the question, "An excellent wife, who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels!
Verse 25, "She is clothed with strength and dignity..." (verse 26) "when she speaks her words are wise and she gives instruction with kindness."

What a contrast to the portrait of women painted by the Quran and the Hadith!

Life is hard for women in Iran. They are daily scrutinized by the morality police making sure they are wearing their hijab properly and if not they can be arrested and fined. In my book, I describe this in much more detail.
My heart goes out to my dear Iranian friend. She deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. In chapter two of my book, "The Rose of Nowruz: dreams of hope and freedom," My character Bahareh is sitting alone at the bus stop reflecting on how her culture treats women and suddenly she begins to write down her thoughts and feelings:

 "I am a woman. I am more than just a veil. I am more than what I wear. 
   I am someone.
  Someone who has the right to speak her mind. The right to be heard. The right to pursue her dreams. The right to be respected and the right to be treated as an equal.
 I have the right to live as I choose. The right to pursue my dreams and the right to be happy.
 God has given me all of these rights and no man or government can take these rights away from me.
 I am a woman and I proclaim my right to be free!



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Happy Nowruz to my Iranian friends!



"Give me wings of freedom so I can fly,
  I wanna fly high. I wanna soar.
 Give me wings of freedom or let me die,
 I wanna touch the sky. I wanna soar!"
       (The Rose of Nowruz)



March 20 marks the first day of Spring and the official beginning of the Persian New Year for my Iranian friends. "Nowruz" or literally, "new day," is the title of the Spring Festival that ushers in the beginning of another year in the Persian calendar. Rooted in the rich history of the Zoroastrian religion, Nowruz is a the cherished time of Spring renewal, which includes eating and celebrating with families. In preparation, Iranians busily engage in house cleaning and shopping for clothes to look their best for the great new year's event. One of the central features of Nowruz is the Haft Seen Table. Iranians erect a small table in their home and according to tradition place items on the table that begin with the letter "S." 
Sabez, (lentil sprouts) are placed in a dish of water, symbolizing rebirth. Sib (apples) are placed next on the table which symbolizes, beauty and health. Samanu ( tasty pudding) is added to the table, symbolizing affluence. Serkeh, (vinegar) is added to the table, symbolizing, old age and patience. Sir (garlic) is a very important addition, symbolizing medicine for healing. Senjed, (wild olive fruit) symbolizing love, and finally Somaq is placed on the table symbolizing the color of sunrise.
The Haft Seen Table is rich in symbolism and sets the mood for the beginning of the Persian New Year. 
Last year, I published a very important book to bring awareness to the Western world about the struggle of my Iranians friends for human rights and freedom. "The Rose of Nowruz, dreams of hope and freedom," is the story of a young concert violinist named Bahareh who lives in Tehran.
The beautiful red rose was Bahareh's favorite flower and she composes a song about a rose as the symbol of freedom during the Nowruz celebration. Desperate to see her friends have freedom from an oppressive government, Bahareh can no longer be silent and becomes a human rights activist in the heart of the Islamic republic of Iran.
Since the publication, I have had the incredible privilege of sending the pdf files of my book to my friends in Iran including several human rights groups in Canada.
1393, (Persian calendar) marks the official start of the Persian New year. But, what can my Iranian friends expect this year? What kind of hope do they have? Will they see an end to the oppression and fear? Will they finally realize their hopes and dreams?
1393 begins with Hassan Rouhani as the new president in Iran. During the election last year, he campaigned as a "moderate" promising some social and economic freedoms, but his track record thus far is anything but "moderate." Since becoming president, executions have spiked, over 687 prisoners were put to death last year. Political activists, human rights defenders, journalist and bloggers, are still behind bars, being punished for speaking out and forced to keep silent.
Campaigning as a "moderate" assured Rouhani of a victory and prevented a repeat of the violence in the last election and once again gave The Islamic Republic control of its people!
In spite of the failed promises of Rouhani, my dear Iranian friends gaze at their "haft seen " tables looking for hope and freedom. They celebrate in the midst of a society that deprives them of their basic human rights to dress, speak and believe as they choose.
This year I decorated my Facebook page with pictures of Haft seen tables and did a special radio program celebrating the new year with them. I was supposed to be a guest at the home of one of my dear Iranian friends via Skype for the start of Nowruz, but internet problems prevented that cherished event from happening. So instead, I put the picture of her table on my timeline and dedicated my page to her!
My friends in Iran are the most precious friends in the world to me! My blogs and my books are all about them! They are the focus and passion of my life.
This is my New Year's prayer for them:

"My dear friends in Iran."
  I pray that your new year is filled with peace, prosperity and freedom! As you gather together with your families this year and sit before your haft seen tables, please don't forget that I am thinking of you and praying for you.
I am praying that God will give you the desires of your heart and that your dreams and visions of the future will one day be finally realized. I am praying that one day you will have a free Iran where you can walk down the streets without fear of being monitored, without fear of being stopped because of the way that you dress. 
I am praying for the day that you can believe as you choose, that you can speak your mind without fear and imprisonment.
I am praying for the day that you will have true freedom. I believe that day will come, my dear Iranian friends. I know that God hears the cries of your hearts. Your lives are precious to Him. He will deliver you from all fear and oppression. I wanted to leave you with a promise from the Bible describing that day of freedom that I have spoken to you about.

" I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, "Look, God's home is now among his people. He will live with them and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All

these things are gone forever. 
And the one sitting on the throne said, "Look I am making everything new! And He said to me, "Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true!"
                                    (Revelation 21: 3-5)

      




Wednesday, March 12, 2014

"Oh how He loves us!"


"He is jealous for me.
 Loves like a hurricane, I am a tree,
 bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy..."


I have the honor and privilege of regularly meeting on Skype with my Iranian friends to help teach them English. During the video chat, we read my books together and I am able to assist them in the correct pronunciation of words. We have a great time together. My friends will share with me the latest happenings in their lives, including their fears and frustrations of living under the oppression of the Islamic Regime.
Just recently, my dear friend who lives in Mashhad (her name withheld for security reasons) told me a very sad story of her early childhood in Iran. Women are required to wear a hijab whenever they go out publicly. The Ghaste Ershad (morality police) daily patrol the streets of Iran looking for violators of the Islamic dress code. If a woman is not wearing her hijab correctly, or is showing too much skin and has too much make up on, she can be both fined and arrested.
My Iranian friend recalled a time in school as a child when the teacher warned her class that if a woman does not cover her head, that in the judgment, Allah would dangle her by the hair over the fires of hell!
The themes of fear, judgment, vengeance, are the constant themes I hear from my friends in Iran. They painfully describe to me how they were taught about who God is. I seldom ever hear them describe God as being loving and merciful.
Iranians are subjected to a distorted picture about who God is. When looking through the Quran, the theme of God's unconditional love for mankind is never found. Instead the Quran teaches that, "Allah loves not the transgressor," (Surah 2:190), that "Allah loveth not those who do wrong,"(Surah 3:57)
The reader is further informed that Allah loveth only those who do good deeds, "And spend of your substance in the cause of Allah and make not your own hands contribute to destruction, but do good, for Allah loveth those who do good," (Surah 2:195)
The conclusion is that Allah does not love the wayward sinner, but that He only loves those who consistently do good. His love is conditional, based on the person who keeps himself pure and clean and does what is right.
However when one reads the Bible, a completely different picture of who God is clearly emerges. The distorted picture of His character dissolves in the theme of His unconditional love.
From Genesis to Revelation, the reader is painted a picture of God who pursues His sinful covenant people with irresistible love. Instead of punishing and forsaking those who have broken His holy law, God reaches out to them with His arms of love and mercy.
"I have loved you with an everlasting love," (Jeremiah 31:3) is the cry from God's heart to His covenant people. His love is undeserved and freely given to a people who deserves judgment but instead receive His mercy!
In the New testament, the picture of God's love is made abundantly clear through Jesus. Jesus treated sinners with compassion and mercy. He once told the story of a man who owned a hundred sheep and when he discovered one of them missing, he searched the wilderness until he found the lost sheep. Once the lost sheep was found, Jesus said that the man joyfully carried the sheep back home on his shoulders. Then the man encouraged his neighbors to rejoice with him because he had found the lost sheep.
Jesus went on to explain that, "In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than the ninety others who have not strayed away!" (Luke 15:7)
The picture that Jesus painted of God's love is vastly different than the one painted by the Quran. God pursues the lost sheep with His irresistible love and then heaven throws a party when the sheep is finally found!
In direct contrast to the Quran's teaching that Allah does not love the transgressor, the Bible instead emphasizes God's unconditional and undeserved love. "But God showed His great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners..(Romans 5:8)
God loves the sinner! This is the constant theme of the Bible. Instead of the distorted picture of a God of hatred and vengeance, the Bible paints a beautiful portrait of a God who never gives up on His people, who never forsakes them, but is constantly crying out for them to return to His mercy.
After I explained to my Iranian friend these wonderful Biblical truths about who God is, she agreed that this is the picture that she has always had of God, a picture of love and kindness.
"Oh how He loves us!" Knowing the unconditional love of God has transformed my life. Whenever I fail God and do things that dishonor Him, I cry out for His mercy and remember the beautiful lyrics to this powerful song by Jesus Culture, "Oh how He loves us."
If you
 have a distorted picture of who God is, pick up the Bible and read these Scriptures and allow His Holy Word to paint the real picture of who He is!